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ASIA: New king vows to shield Bhutan in globalised world

07 Nov 2008 9:36 PM

THIMPHU, Nov 7 AFP - Bhutan's new king vowed today to shield his remote and traditionally insular Himalayan nation from the negative forces of globalisation.

In a speech the day after his lavish coronation ceremony, 28-year-old JigmeKhesar Namgyel Wangchuck said he would protect the landlocked country's unique culture and traditions by pursuing the principle of Gross National Happiness.

"My deepest concern is that as the world changes we may lose these fundamental values on which we rest our character as a nation and people," King Wangchuck, now the world's youngest reigning monarch, said in a speech to tensof thousands of people.

"Henceforth, even as more dramatic changes transform the world and our nation, as long as we continue to pursue the simple and timeless goal of being good human beings... we can ensure that our future generations will live inhappiness and peace," he said.

"That is the essence of Gross National Happiness. Our most important goal is the peace and happiness of our people and the security and sovereignty ofour nation."

The crowning of the new king yesterday capped a year of sweeping changes for the country, which is sandwiched between Asian giants India and China buthas never been colonised.

Bhutan held its first democratic elections for a new parliament and prime minister in March, as part of a plan by the former king to modernise the country by relinquishing the Wangchuck dynasty's absolute power.

The revered former king, who is 52, abdicated two years ago, saying he wanted to match the shift to democracy with a change of face in the white-walled palace that overlooks Thimpu.

The country, home to just over 600,000 people, is one of the most remote places on earth.

It had no roads or currency until the 1960s, allowed television only in 1999 and continues to resist the temptation of allowing mass tourism -- preferring instead to allow access to only small organised groups of well-heeled visitors.

AFP ht=0A